Bipartisan Bill Improves Protections for American Victims of International Terrorism
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of Senators led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today introduced legislation to protect American victims of international terrorism and ensure access to compensation for those impacted by acts of terror. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 makes needed improvements to the Antiterrorism Act of 1992 to better ensure that American victims of international terrorism can obtain justice in U.S. courts by holding accountable those who commit, or aid and abet, terrorist activity abroad. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
In the House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler introduced companion legislation.
“Over twenty-five years ago, I led the Senate’s effort to pass the Antiterrorism Act to improve justice for Americans victimized by acts of terrorism abroad. Congress’ intent was clear: U.S. victims of international terrorism should be able to seek justice in U.S. courts against those responsible, no matter where the attacks occurred. But recent flawed court decisions have undermined the law’s purpose. Our bill is a carefully balanced approach to better ensure victims’ access to compensation and to hold supporters of terrorism accountable,” Grassley said.
“The FARC murdered Tom Janis and held Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Tom Howes captive for five years, after their plane went down in a Colombian jungle while on a mission for the U.S. Government. These brave Americans and their families, like all victims of terrorism, deserve a measure of justice. That’s what this bill is all about,” Nelson said.
“Congress should quickly seize this important opportunity to help American victims of Palestinian terrorism after the U.S. Solicitor General failed to stand with them in their appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case. I am proud to support Chairman Grassley’s legislation to strengthen U.S. laws for holding international terrorists and their benefactors fully accountable for the suffering that they inflict on American victims and their families,” Rubio said.
“The history of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism against Americans is extensive, going decades and ranging from hijackings to suicide bombings and assassinations. For too long American citizens have been disgracefully denied justice. This bill will ensure that American victims of terrorism are empowered to secure accountability from terrorists and their supporters,” Cruz said.
“Victims of terrorism and their families have waged courageous legal campaigns to hold terrorists accountable for their atrocities, only to be thwarted by legal loopholes. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that terrorist defendants cannot hide from American justice,” Blumenthal said.
“This is a strong bipartisan effort to better ensure that victims of terrorism have ample opportunity to seek justice against their attackers both domestically and abroad. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act restores Congress’ intent that terrorist organizations and those who aid and abet them can be held accountable for their crimes against Americans,” Tillis said.
“American victims of terrorist attacks deserve to have their legal claims heard in U.S. courts. I am proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill that ensures that our laws hold terrorist organizations that harm Americans accountable,” Coons said.
“Every provision in the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act is designed to tighten accountability measures for those who commit acts of terrorism and to provide victims with compensation and added access to justice through our courts. With the dangers U.S. citizens face at home and abroad, this clarification bill is more necessary than ever. I thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for their dedication to ensuring justice for victims of terrorism,” Goodlatte said.
“This legislation will make it easier for Americans who are victims of international terrorism to have their day in court and to hold terrorists accountable for their heinous acts. I have long championed efforts to help victims of terrorism obtain some measure of justice and compensation for their injuries, including by helping to lead bipartisan efforts to enact the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and to reauthorize the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, and I am proud to be the lead Democratic House sponsor of this new legislation,” Nadler said.
Ending “Acts of War” Exemption Abuse
The Antiterrorism Act of 1992 exempted lawful “acts of war” from the scope of its civil liability provisions. However, some defendants accused of aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism have successfully claimed in court that the law’s “act of war” defense shields them from civil liability, even when the act of terrorism was perpetrated by a designated terrorist group. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 clarifies that the “act of war” defense does not apply to acts carried out by entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. government or any person that has been determined by the court to not be a military force. This simple amendment will help ensure that American victims of terrorism—including soldiers and other personnel serving abroad—can have their rightful day in court.
Expanding Access to Remedies for Victims of Narco-Terrorism
Under current law, American victims of terrorism may use the assets of a perpetrating terrorist entity that are frozen by the U.S. government to satisfy court-awarded judgments. Assets frozen under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (“Kingpin Act”), however, currently remain unavailable to victims of terrorism. This leaves victims of narco-terrorism or other drug-related terrorist activity without a meaningful method of satisfying their Antiterrorism Act judgements. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that assets blocked under the Kingpin Act are available to victims.
Clarifies U.S. Court Jurisdiction in Foreign Terrorism Cases
Recent flawed court decisions have called into question the Antiterrorism Act’s continued ability to hold terrorists or their supporters accountable in U.S. courts. For example, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to deny certiorari in Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization—a case in which Chairman Grassley led a bipartisan amicus brief—leaves in place a flawed circuit court decision gutting the extraterritorial scope of the 1992 law. Carrying out or assisting an act of international terrorism that injures or kills Americans abroad should provide sufficient justification to subject defendants to U.S. legal sanctions. Moreover, no one benefiting from a U.S. program, such as foreign assistance, or maintaining a presence in the United States should be able to simultaneously dodge responsibility in U.S. courts for involvement in terrorist attacks that harm Americans. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that certain defendants who take advantage of benefits under certain U.S. laws shall be deemed to have consented to jurisdiction in U.S. courts for any Antiterrorism Act lawsuit.
Text of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 is available HERE.